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Philly connections abound in La Salle's win over Albany

11/13/2021, 11:30pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Ashley Howard is used to that glance shared between head coaches, the quick meeting of eyes to acknowledge a joint frustration, a shared understanding of the shared pursuit. 

When the La Salle men’s head coach looked over at his counterpart on Saturday afternoon, there was a different reaction: pride for Dwayne Killings, the first-year Albany head coach, and Howard’s longtime close friend.

Ashley Howard (above) had a familiar face on the other end of the sideline on Saturday afternoon. (Photo: NIcole Ambruch/CoBL)

“There was a possession where — [in the] first half we took like five charges — and he’s going crazy on the other end,” Howard said. “And I just looked at him, and he’s going crazy, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘how cool is this,’ to see him on the sideline.

“That’s literally what I was thinking. I was like ‘damn, man, I’m proud of him’ — like, in the moment. And I know he’s ragging on the ref, and then Clifton Moore gets two charges called on him, so I know he’s down there doing his job. 

“A lot of coaches, we know each other, so we all glance down, but it was really cool to glance down and see DK down there today.”

For Killings, the former Temple assistant who came up through the coaching ranks — at BU and then with the Owls, UConn and Marquette before getting the Great Danes gig this spring — it was a similarly strange feeling.

Though he’d known Howard a couple decades, since the Explorers’ fourth-year coach was an Explorers assistant (before heading over to assistant roles at Drexel, Xavier and finally Villanova before landing his first and current head-coaching job), and even though the two knew very well what this game meant to their respective squads, they couldn't help but get caught by the realization of what was happening.

“One time I looked down there, and Ash looked at me and I looked at him, and we’re both a little bit like ‘this is crazy,’ because you’re competing against each other,” Killings said. “To be able to come back to Philadelphia, it’s a place that made me; to bring my own team here (means) a lot to me.”

There’s no doubt the epicenter of the Philadelphia basketball world was at Tom Gola Arena, at least for one Saturday afternoon. From the former Big 5 coaches and players to current high school stars, AAU and high school coaches and more populating the arena, it was seemingly nothing but familiar faces all around, even in a crowd of more than 3,000.

It might not have been the prettiest game — a 67-64 La Salle win that saw a combined 49 turnovers and 45 fouls, the Explorers going up by 13 at half and withstanding a desperate Great Danes push down the stretch.

Albany head coach Dwayne Killings (above) is in his first year with the Great Danes. (Photo: Nicole Ambruch/CoBL)

But there’s no doubt that all in the local hoops community in attendance were willing to overlook it all, considering just who was involved. Because Killings’ connection to Philadelphia was only the start of the ties in Gola that afternoon.

On the one bench, Killings’ Albany team might as well consider itself an unofficial member of the Big 5 this season, or at least rivaling Matt Langel’s Colgate for the upstate New York representative.

Of the 15 players on the Great Danes’ roster, eight have significant ties to the 215: two former collegiate players in De’Vondre Perry (Temple) and Jarvis Doles (Drexel), plus former local high school standouts Ny’Mire Little (Fr./Westtown), Tairi Ketner (Fr./Archbishop Carroll), Matt Cerruti (Gr./Archbishop Wood), Paul Newman (Gr./Roman Catholic) and Chuck Champion (Gr./Friends’ Central), and Aaron Reddish, who grew up in Norristown but moved down to Georgia when his brother and former Westtown star Cam Reddish was picked by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Throw in assistant coach Matt Griffin, the St. Joe’s Prep grad who spent the previous six years as Roman Catholic’s head coach, and it’s a team that’s thoroughly Philly. Coming down to this area for a game this season was a no-brainer.

“That’s what I wanted when I scheduled the game, I talked to Ashley, and they were looking for a game, and I said I want to bring our guys here,” Killings said. “Obviously it’s a familiar environment, you’ve got a lot of family, a lot of noise behind us, but it’s great. You couldn’t hear play calls, it was hard for our guys to hear each other, hear me, but you’ve got to respond.”

La Salle’s roster is equally loaded with local talent, with nine of its 17 roster members hailing from the region. There were six players from District 1 or District 12 in the starting lineup, with Moore (Hatboro-Horsham), Jhamir Brickus (Coatesville), Jack Clark (Cheltenham) and Christian Ray (Haverford School) out for the Explorers along with Newman and Cerruti, plus Perry, for Albany. 

Archbishop Wood grad Matt Cerruti (above) is playing his final season of collegiate basketball at D-I University at Albany. (Photo: Nicole Ambruch/CoBL)


There were times when it felt more like the grown-up version of K-Low Elite vs. Philly Pride, two local AAU programs slugging it out for bragging rights at the Donofrio Classic.

“A lot of Philly was in the building, so I think in that aspect, yeah,” said Ray, who had 12 points and six rebounds to pace his team in both categories in the win. “Obviously there’s some differences, just because it’s college, a little bit more disciplined and stuff like that, but yeah, it definitely felt like a good Philly matchup.”

While the coaches were out there soaking in the experience, some of the players were trying their best to ignore the circumstances. It was a major moment for Cerruti, a D-II recruit out of Archbishop Wood, who began his high school years at tiny Lower Moreland and now starts for a Division I program. 

“I try not to think outside of it, because once I think outside of it I’ll start to think about too many things,” he said. “Obviously I play with a chip on my shoulder, coming from Lower Moreland, playing Division II, lowly-recruited out of Wood, so I do play with that chip, but when I’m preparing for the game, I’m not really thinking about it.”

Cerruti played well, shooting 5-of-10 overall (3-4 3PT) for 13 points, with three steals; he was only behind Perry (18 points) for the Great Danes’ team lead, and hit a late pair of 3-pointers to keep Albany (0-2) close. 

“We all wanted to come home and perform well, and I don’t think anybody’s happy with the result,” he said.

La Salle (1-1) gets back in action on Weds., Nov. 17 at CAA preseason favorite Delaware (1-1), which dispatched Siena — the other D-I school located in Albany — by 20 on Saturday. That’ll be another familiar matchup, as it pits Ray against his old Haverford School teammate Jameer Nelson, Jr., while Andrew Carr (West Chester East), Anthony Ochefu (Westtown), and former Villanova forward Dylan Painter should all be familiar names to local hoops fans.

And while the Explorers might not be coming off the most aesthetically pleasing win in program history, Howard will take whatever he can get as he tries to keep the ball rolling at 20th and Olney.

“You’ve got to win ugly sometimes, when shots aren’t falling, when you have 23 turnovers and you can still win the game, then that’s something,” he said. “The last game [against Sacred Heart] we hit 15 3s, we did so much positive stuff, and we lost. So I’m just glad that our guys were able to redeem themselves today; it wasn’t pretty, but we got it done.”

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